Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Quotes

December 29, 2011

I have been reading (and listening to) Tim Keller’s new book The Meaning of Marriage, easily my favorite book of 2011. One of the subjects Keller covers is the lost sense of duty in love. We have come to think that if there is any duty in love it must not be genuine. Biblically, of course, love is shown not in what you receive, but in how much you are willing to give; often you give out of a sense of duty. I’d like to share a quote in which he applies this to the marriage bed. I share this simply because I know what a struggle this is in so many marriages and I am sure that these words can help.


Modern people think of love in such subjective terms that if there is any duty involved it is considered unhealthy. Over the years, I have often counseled with people who were quite locked into this conviction. This is particularly true when it comes to sex. Many people believe that if you have sex with your spouse just to please him or her though you are not interested in sex yourself, it would be inauthentic or even oppressive. This is the thoroughly subjective understanding of love-as-passionate-feeling. And often this quickly leads into a vicious cycle. If you won’t make love unless you are in a romantic mood at the very same time as your spouse, then sex will not happen that often. This can dampen and quench your partner’s interest in sex, which means there will be even fewer opportunities. Therefore, if you never have sex unless there is great mutual passion, there will be fewer and fewer times of mutual passion.

One of the reasons we believe in our culture that sex should always and only be the result of great passion is that so many people today have learned how to have sex outside of marriage, and this is a very different experience than having sex inside it. Outside of marriage, sex is accompanied by a desire to impress or entice someone. It is something like the thrill of the hunt. When you are seeking to draw in someone you don’t know, it injects risk, uncertainty, and pressure to the lovemaking that quickens the heartbeat and stirs the emotions. If “great sex” is defined in this way, then marriage—the “piece of paper”—will indeed stifle that particular kind of thrill. But this defines sexual sizzle in terms that would be impossible to maintain in any case. The fact is that “the thrill of the hunt” is not the only kind of thrill or passion available, nor is it the best.

Kathy and I were virgins when we married. Even in our day, that may have been the minority experience, but that meant that on our wedding night we were not in any position to try to impress or entice one another. All we were trying to do was to tenderly express with our bodies the oneness we had first begun feeling as friends and which had then had grown stronger and deeper as we fell in love. Frankly, that night I was clumsy and awkward and fell asleep anxious and discouraged. Sex was frustrating at first. It was the frustration of an artist who has in his head a picture or a story but lacks the skills to express it.

However, we had fortunately not learned to use sex to impress, nor to mix the thrill of the dangerous and the forbidden with sexual stimulation and mistake it for love. With sex, we were trying to be vulnerable to each other, to give each other the gift of bare-faced rejoicing in one another, and to know the pleasure of giving one another pleasure. And as the weeks went by, and then the years, we did it better and better. Yes, it means making love sometimes when one or even both of you are not “in the mood.” But sex in a marriage, done to give joy rather than to impress, can change your mood on the spot. The best sex makes you want to weep tears of joy, not bask in the glow of a good performance.

December 28, 2011

At this year’s Expositor’s Conference there was a Q&A session in which a concerned pastor asked Al Mohler about the influence of Mark Driscoll. Mohler’s answer was winsome and helpful. He helpfully balanced being encouraged that Driscoll is preaching the gospel while at the same time expressing concern at some of his emphases. As he says, we ought to be able to be grown ups about this issue and other similar ones. There is no good reason that we can’t discuss this winsomely and with discernment.

Here is a transcription of that part of the Q&A; if you’d rather listen, click here. (Note: This happened in October, long before the book Real Marriage, so do not take this as Mohler’s reaction to that book)


Question: I work with college students, mostly leading them to Christ and discipling them, and one of the big influences they have in their life right now is pastor Mark Driscoll and the ministry that he’s doing. I’d just like to hear from you just what you feel like to be some effects of sitting under him on YouTube or from his website, what kind of things that I need to be prepared for just ministering to young college students just listening to his teaching?

Mohler: You had a better question? [laughs] I told you it’s dangerous to turn left. It never works, just take that as a parable. Now I appreciate the question and I’m not going to dodge it. Here’s the thing—we ought to be grown ups, we can talk about these things, we want, together, to be a company of discerning men and we want to think about these things. 

One of the things that we need to say, first of all, is that, wherever the gospel is to be found we need to be happy about that. And I’m thankful that Mark Driscoll believes in, teaches and preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. I appreciate and admire his boldness and his tenacity, being in a very secular place for a long period of years to preach with such boldness the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The Gospel has implications. Pastor Driscoll and I would not agree on all those implications. I have great concerns about what I would consider to be excessive contextualization. Now I do think we need to acknowledge that all of us contextualize. I’m not here in pajamas. There’s a certain contextualization that is taking place here. I’m using the English language; if I came here speaking German, Helmut and Helga in the back would appreciate that greatly but the rest of you would probably be left out of the conversation. So, in other words, we’re always about some kind of contextualization and actually the most dangerous contextualization are things we do not think about. It’s the subconscious contextualization.

I am concerned about contextualization when it comes to, say, to reach a secular society you have to be crude, you have to be, because there’s a difference between being crude and being simple, okay. There’s also a difference between being crude and being candid. I think there’s some things, gospel ministers, actually don’t ever have to talk about, ever, because they’re simply not on the screen of a gospel application. That means an application of the gospel, not an application to be a Christian. I have to watch what I’m saying here. They’re simply not there. I think there are other things that should never be talked about in the full congregation. There are times when the men in the church need to get aside and talk about certain things that only men need to talk about and likewise women, talk about only things women need to talk about. There is a respect for modesty of gender in the New Testament that has to do with leadership, it has to do with older women counseling and teaching younger women. There is also a need in the church at times for there to be an age discrimination. There are things adults need to talk about that parents need to talk about, that children, and for that matter middle schoolers and teenagers don’t need to be a part of. There’s a matter of discernment there. 

December 25, 2011

I went looking for what Charles Spurgeon believed about Christmas and was kind of amused at the energy he brought to the discussion (e.g. “the greatest absurdities under heaven…”). Suffice it to say he did not mark Christmas day. And yet he celebrated the incarnation and all it means to the believer. Here’s the opening and closing of a sermon preached on December 23, 1855.


This is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Saviour Jesus Christ was born on that day, and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred. However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt labouring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us; particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those

“Who with more care keep holiday
The wrong, than others the right way.”

The old Puritans made a parade of work on Christmas-day, just to show that they protested against the observance of it. But we believe they entered that protest so completely, that we are willing, as their descendants, to take the good accidentally conferred by the day, and leave its superstitions to the superstitious.

Sweet Lord Jesus! thou whose goings forth were of old, even from everlasting, thou hast not left thy goings forth yet. Oh! that thou wouldst go forth this day, to cheer the faint, to help the weary, to bind up our wounds, to comfort our distresses! Go forth, we beseech thee, to conquer sinners, to subdue hard hearts-to break the iron gates of sinners’ lusts, and cut the iron bars of their sirs in pieces! O Jesus! go forth; and when thou goest forth, come thou to me! Am I a hardened sinner? Come thou to me; I want thee:

“Oh! let thy grace my heart subdue;
I would be led in triumph too;
A willing captive to my Lord,
To sing the honours of thy word.”

Poor sinner! Christ has not left going forth yet. And when he goes forth, recollect, he goes to Bethlehem. Have you a Bethlehem in your heart? Are you little? will go forth to you yet. Go home and seek him by earnest prayer. If you have been made to weep on account of sin, and think yourself too little to be noticed, go home, little one! Jesus comes to little ones; his goings forth were of old, and he is going forth now. He will come to your poor old house; he will come to your poor wretched heart; he will come, though you are in poverty, and clothed in rags, though you are destitute, tormented, and afflicted; he will come, for his goings forth have been of old from everlasting. Trust him, trust him, trust him; and he will go forth to abide in your heart for ever.

December 24, 2011

The Puritans used to speak of “constancy,” a word that has largely fallen out of use since then. It speaks of faithfulness and endurance and dependability—character traits of the Christian. The Puritans admired those who were constant, those who endured through all the trials of this life. They cared less for extraordinary acts and more for a life of quiet, consistent faithfulness.

As I researched that word, I came across a wonderful little poem—a sad but hopeful one that has been translated from French to English. It is the poem of one who has seen constancy in others and has had his heart moved by it.

In this great fire, the great patience
Which in dying makes the soldier a conqueror,
Moves in me the eye, the ear, and the heart,
When I see , when I hear, when I think about it.

I see suffering with joy and constancy,
I hear loud singing in extreme pain,
I think then of the greatness of God,
Who shines in the darkness of human weakness.

If you want therefore to profit in hearing,
It is not enough to both see and to hear,
For in thought is the fullness of usefulness,
And whoever comes to this place.
To see, to hear, and not to think,
Seeing, hearing, he sees nothing at all.

From a book by Chandieu, entitled Persecution et martyrs de l’Eglise de Paris. Published in Lyon in 1563. (source)

December 18, 2011

While doing some research this week I came across this wonderful little quote from Thomas Chalmers. Here he discusses the central role of the very ordinary means of God’s grace.


In bygone days when God’s covenant people sought to strengthen their piety, to sharpen their effectual intercessions, and give passion to their supplications, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When intent upon seeking the Lord God’s guidance in difficult after-times, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When they were wont to express grief—whether over the consequences of their own sins or the sins of others—they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When they sought deliverance or protection in times of trouble, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When they desired to express repentance, covenant renewal, and a return to the fold of faith, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

Such is the call upon all who would name the Name of Jesus. Such is the ordinary Christian life.

December 11, 2011

I came across this quote by Horatius Bonar and thought it was worth sharing. Bonar is warning against a kind of soft and, in his word, effeminate Christianity, that may come about when Christians are too afraid to fight for what is right and to protest against what is wrong.

For there is some danger of falling into a soft and effeminate Christianity, under the plea of a lofty and ethereal theology. Christianity was born for endurance…It walks with firm step and erect frame; it is kindly, but firm; it is gentle, but honest; it is calm, but not facile; obliging, but not imbecile; decided, but not churlish. It does not fear to speak the stern word of condemnation against error, nor to raise its voice against surrounding evils, under the pretext that it is not of this world.

It does not shrink from giving honest reproof lest it come under the charge of displaying an unchristian spirit. It calls sin ’sin,’ on whomsoever it is found, and would rather risk the accusation of being actuated by a bad spirit than not discharge an explicit duty. Let us not misjudge strong words used in honest controversy. Out of the heat a viper may come forth; but we shake it off and feel no harm.

The religion of both Old and New Testaments is marked by fervent outspoken testimonies against evil. To speak smooth things in such a case may be sentimentalism, but it is not Christianity. It is a betrayal of the cause of truth and righteousness. If anyone should be frank, manly, honest, cheerful (I do not say blunt or rude, for a Christian must be courteous and polite), it is he who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and is looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.

I know that charity covereth a multitude of sins; but it does not call evil good, because a good man has done it; it does not excuse inconsistencies, because the inconsistent brother has a high name and a fervent spirit. Crookedness and worldliness are still crookedness and worldliness, though exhibited in one who seems to have reached no common height of attainment.

December 04, 2011

I’d like to share one more quote from Phillip Schaff’s book The Person of Christ which, as I said yesterday, has just been republished by Granted Ministries. This is a short but powerful excerpt.


No biographer, moralist, or artist can be satisfied with any attempt of his to set forth the beauty of holiness which shines from the face of Jesus of Nazareth. It is felt to be infinitely greater than any conception or representation of it by the mind, the tongue, or the pencil of man or angel. We might as well attempt to empty the waters of the boundless sea into a narrow well, or to portray the splendor of the risen sun and the starry heavens with ink. No picture of the Saviour, though drawn by the master hand of a Raphael or Dürer or Rubens; no epic, though conceived by the genius of a Dante or Milton or Klopstock,—can improve on the artless, narrative of the Gospels, whose only but all-powerful charm is truth. In this case, certainly, truth is stranger than fiction, and speaks best for itself without comment, explanation, or eulogy. Here, and here alone, the highest perfection of art falls short of the historical fact, and fancy finds no room for idealizing the real; for here we have the absolute ideal itself in living reality. It seems to me that this consideration alone should satisfy any reflecting mind that Christ’s character, though truly natural and human, rises far above the ordinary proportions of humanity, and can not be classified with the purest and greatest of our race.

Christ’s person is, indeed, a great but blessed mystery. It can not be explained on purely humanitarian principles, nor derived from any intellectual and moral forces of the age in which he lived. On the contrary, it stands in marked contrast to the whole surrounding world of Judaism and Heathenism, which presents to us the dreary picture of internal decay, and which actually crumbled into ruin before the new moral creation of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. He is the one absolute and unaccountable exception to the universal experience of mankind. He is the great central miracle of the whole gospel-history. All his miracles are but the natural and necessary manifestations of his miraculous person, and hence they were performed with the same ease with which we perform our ordinary daily works. In the Gospel of St. John, they are simply and justly called his “works.” It would be the greatest miracle indeed, if He, who is a miracle himself, should have performed no miracles.

December 03, 2011

Granted Ministries has recently republished The Person of Christ, written by Dr. Phillip Schaff. This is a book that describes and celebrates the character, the humanity and the divinity of Jesus Christ. In one section Schaff discusses the way all virtues and graces are exemplified in Jesus Christ. Here is what he says:


We can not properly attribute to him any one temperament. He was neither sanguine, like Peter; nor choleric, like Paul; nor melancholy, like John; nor phlegmatic, as James is sometimes, though incorrectly, represented to have been: but he combined the vivacity without the levity of the sanguine, the vigor without the violence of the choleric, the seriousness without the austerity of the melancholic, the calmness without the apathy of the phlegmatic, temperament.

He was equally far removed from the excesses of the legalist, the pietist, the ascetic, and the enthusiast. With the strictest obedience to the law, he moved in the element of freedom; with all the fervor of the enthusiast, he was always calm, sober, and self-possessed. Notwithstanding his complete and uniform elevation above the affairs of this world, he fireely mingled with society, male and female, dined with publicans and sinners, played with little children and blessed them, sat at the wedding-feast, shed tears at the sepulcher, delighted in God’s nature, admired the beauties of the lilies, and used the occupations of the husbandman for the illustration of the sublimest truths of the kingdom of heaven. His virtue was healthy, manly, vigorous, yet genial, social, and truly human; never austere and repulsive; always in full sympathy with innocent joy and pleasure. He, the purest and holiest of men, provided wine for the wedding-feast; introduced the fatted calf and music and dancing into the picture of welcome of the prodigal son to his father’s house; and even provoked the sneer of his adversaries, that he “came eating and drinking,” and was a “glutton” and a “winebibber.”

November 27, 2011

Earlier on I found myself running through some of my old notes from the first time I read Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. I came across a portion of his work that I wish I had discovered before writing The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. In that book I wrote about counterfeiting and missed the point that Edwards makes so clear: “It may be observed that the more excellent anything is, the more will be the counterfeits of it.” And of course this is true. Nobody counterfeits copper or aluminum! Instead, people counterfeit what is precious and what is desirable. Edwards continues to say that because love is the chief of the graces and the source from which all true affections must flow, it is love that is most often counterfeited. “So there are perhaps no graces that have more counterfeits than love and humility, these being virtues wherein the beauty of a true Christian does especially appear.” I suppose the application is clear. We must be on guard against counterfeit love and counterfeit humility; we must watch for their presence in our own lives and be aware that they may be present in the lives of those who appear to be the most humble, most loving Christians. Such godly traits are always prone to counterfeits.

November 20, 2011

This morning we had Dr. Charles Woodrow preach at Grace Fellowship Church. For over 20 years, Dr. Woodrow has served as a missionary to Mozambique. Our church has been supporting him in this work for the past several years. In his sermon he quoted Jim Elliot—not the Elliot quote we all know (“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”), but one that I hadn’t heard before. I thought it was worth sharing.

We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the twentieth century does not reckon with. But we are “harmless,” and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are “sideliners” — coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!

Pages